If companies were asked which technology they use to automate their sales teams, I bet most would say Microsoft Excel. I said the same thing ten years ago when I wrote a blog similar to this one.
The spreadsheet is the best list-making tool ever invented. I don’t know who invented it, but I’ve seen meticulous hand-written spreadsheets detailing the provisioning of the British Navy done by the great diarist Samuel Pepys in the seventeenth century. I’ve also seen Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Development, tell the story of how he built one of the first electronic spreadsheets for the Apple II in 1982.
In 1999, I was the CEO of the Canadian division of a multi-billion dollar global bioscience company. Their future sales projections depended on a spreadsheet. This giant spreadsheet would arrive from the head office and each regional office would type in the projections for their region. Everyone e-mailed it back, and it got rolled up with scores of other region’s results. Then you got it back again to see how you were performing.
At that time there was no company-wide CRM or SFA tool and each region did its own thing. But the head office wanted to know what was going on, so they used Excel to figure it out. A dozen business analysts were needed just to keep the spreadsheet routine working. Some companies still do it this way.
Don’t get me wrong – spreadsheets are a powerful analytical and reporting tool. But to use spreadsheet workflow throughout an organization without any kind of connecting glue underpinning it is a recipe for waste and inefficiency. They don’t link very well, they don’t share common data very well. They are cumbersome and need lots of tender loving care to make them work. And you must manually dig the information out from somewhere else and type it into the spreadsheet.
That’s an archaic, almost unconscionable, way of doing it. The CRM system (if there is one) should be the central repository for all the sales information, accurate and up to date, ready for the spreadsheet to use. Press a button and the CRM information automatically flows into the spreadsheet, which then automatically digests the data and spits it out in predefined formats.
It is the reliance on the spreadsheet that slows a company down in evolving to a proper CRM solution. The attitude is, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and the pressure of continuing business prevents people from sitting back, taking a breath, and recognizing just how wasteful and time consuming the spreadsheet process really is. From my experience, the best thing to do is to implement a solid CRM/SFA product in parallel, and to slowly wean the business off the spreadsheet, relegating it to a pure reporting and analysis tool.